You got invited to vacation on a tropical island. Your best friend is getting married. Your lease is almost up. And you're stressed because your savings account is non-existent because you make around the same amount as high schoolers who work at carnivals. Before you jump to say 'no' to your friends and family and a life of financial freedom, here are a few of my tips to help you save money — even if it seems like you don't make enough money to start this process.
1. Bills come first.
When it comes to money, don't think in terms of extremes.
"I'll take all the money I have and run away to Barcelona and I'll figure it out when I arrive."
"I guess I'll just never go out. Actually, I'll never leave the house again."
The great thing about saving what little money you have is that you already have a template to work with. It's called your monthly bills. Create a calendar that highlights the dates your bills are due. Start with the big bills such as rent and utilities, and then estimate the bare minimum you'll need to spend on groceries, Netflix, gas, etc so that all of that money is taken into consideration. Next, map out which dates you will pay which bills. If you're paid bi-weekly, decide which bills go to paycheck #1 and which bills will go to paycheck #2. By mapping out the exact payment date, you will start to see the exact dollar amount that you will have left over at the end of the month once all bills and necessary expenses are covered. Take that amount (or a large chunk of it) and put it in savings. You'll be able to confidantly put that money aside and know that you won't be scrambling for rent money.
2. Get out of the house.
I promise you, you will get stir crazy in your house and are more likely to make the impulse Amazon purchase or order the expensive steak dinner the moment you give yourself an ounce of freedom if you don't give yourself balance. Staying inside will never do your savings account any favors, because you are not teaching yourself new habits. For starters, find ways to trim down your spending outside the confines of your home. Is bar-hopping your choice of recreation? Awesome. Be the master of happy hour. Instead of waiting for your friends to pick the bar, plan out the happy hours that are in your budget and be the ring leader. Start researching the offerings of your community by scouring the events page on facebook for your local paper. I go to open mics every week to get my complimentary dose of laughs, and I order selzter/lime at my favorite bar that houses vintage pinball machines when I need to get out of the house. Your world is about to open up.
3. Try some grocery shopping hacks.
Grocery shopping is always the wild card for me in terms of making a budget. It's easy for me to spend more than planned at the store because I always justify it as, "It's food! I have to eat." An extra $50 later, my set budget is out the window. Here's the secret I learned while living in New York: All of us can survive on fewer groceries than we're purchasing. To get to my grocery store in New York, I had to haul my personal handcart down two flights of subway stairs and once in the store, I could only buy whatever I'd be able to haul back to my walkup on my own. And the tiny amount of food I bought every week was always enough thanks to strict menu-making. Now when I'm at the grocery store in Boise and I see people with every square inch of their grocery cart packed to the gills, I want to scream. There is no way that they will be able to eat all that food in a week. Most of it is going in the garbage.
Before going to store, set your budget and create a menu. Aim to create a menu that curates two to three specific food items, so that you can use the same item in multiple meals. Scour your pantry and fridge. That half-full bag of rice in the back of the pantry will be put to good use. Next, once you have your grocery budget in mind, withdraw that amount in cash from the ATM. You are no longer allowed to touch your credit card in the grocery store. You've got this.
4. Set a savings goal.
It's easier to be motivated to save when there's a goal in mind. Plain and simple. Instead of being goal-oriented by a dollar amount, choose a small dream you'd like to attain. Is it taking a small road trip out of state? Buying a new camera? Saving up for a deposit so you can get out of your apartment and rent a cute house? Pick a goal and a timeline for it. It's easier to pull out an additional $20 to toss into savings when you can visualize the future it is helping you build.
I know the light at the end of the tunnel is flickering. I know it feels hopeless. You deserve a life that is balanced. A life that is about more than making enough money to pay your electric bill. You can do it. I know you can. Happy saving.
Erika Jenko is a playwright and theme park junkie trying to navigate the magical world of adulting. Also, a YouTuber and blogger at www.subwaymouse.com.
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